By Stephen Ubanna
Btween September last year and now, there is hardly a week that an ocean going vessel had not been attacked in the volatile region of the Gulf of Guinea, popular, GoG. Take for nstance, on November 4, 2020, a product Tanker vessel, NEFELI II, IMO 9291638, dwt 9999, enroute from Lagos port of Apapa to Douala port, Cameroon, was attacked some 20mm south of Bonny, Nigeria, by Pirates.The ship was said to have stopped roughly at the same time and position, the attack occurred.
The latest of such attacks was the Liberian flagged Container vessel, MV. MOZART, IMO:9337274, managed by Boden Denizcilik AS, Istabul, Turkey, which was said to have been successfully boarded by four well- armed Pirates, on Saturday, January, 23, 2021, barely two days after Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, was reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.
The Crew members , were said to have retreated to the citadel which was alleged to have been breached by the pirates which had attacked the vessel. This may have given the Pirates the opportunity to kidnap 15, out of the 19 of the Crew members on Board the vessel.
There are reports making the rounds that one Farman Ismayilov, an Azerbaijani Engineer, was killed while the remaining three other Crew members were said to be maneuvering the vessel and proceeding to Port Gentil in Gabon at gunpoint.
The attacked MOZART Container vessel, which has capacity 2824 TEU, built in 2007, has an international Crew of 19 Seafarers which was a Commercial voyage from Lagos port of Apapa, to Cape Town in South Africa. The pirates were said to have dismantled all cables in the vessel , leaving only ‘’the Navigators to work. The Captain of the vessel in a shared Twitter that had been made public had revealed that, the Pirates gave him a route which he had followed it accordingly. ‘’Idon’t know where I am going’’, he had cried out.
Signs that the Turkish Container vessel may have ran into murkey waters in the Gulf of Guinea emerged when ‘’the ship stopped shortly after boarding , went adrift , and was still at drift as at the time the last AIS, position of the vessel was received on Saturday, January 23, 2021’’.
Aware of the attack on its Container vessel whilst sailing in the Gulf of Guinea some 100 nautical miles off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe, the Management of Boden Denizcilik, AS Turkey, the managers of the vessel, were said to have established contact with the Crew of the vessel who had taken shelter at the citadel of the ship.
Based on the contact with the ship Crew members, they were said to have reached out to the Nigerian Navy, and Bashir Jamoh, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, who in turn was said to have given a marching order to agency Search and Rescue Team, other relevant government agencies to join the agency in search and sescue operations for the MOZART vessel and the Crew.
The Turky based shipping Company may have reached out to the relevant Authorities in Nigeria to seek assistance as it had said in a Statement that ‘’the safety of and well-being of the seafarers on board on the Container vessel is a prime concern to the Company’’.
Security sources told The Value News Magazine that the Pirates appear to be finding it ease in attacking ocean going vessels the in the Gulf of Guinea because Naval forces , particularly, those outside of Nigeria, are poorly financed by their respective home governments and thus, unable to support the country’s Naval personnel to adequately police the GoG, with vessels underway . This may have informed why the threat of Piracy in the region has been elevated to’’ the level of criminality’’.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the primary motivation of the pirates remains financial with the kidnappers demanding a ransom for the release of the captured Crew. It was reported that the Nigerian pirates, who are working in Collaboration with foreigners are awaiting for Negotiations for ransom from the MOZART vessel Managers.
Meanwhile , the Turkish Authorities, were said to have launched efforts to find the kidnapped Crew members of MOZART Container vessel. Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkey President was said to have held a telephone Conversation with Furkan Yren, the fourth captain of the ship that was ambushed . That much was contained in a Statement by the country’s Presidential Communications Directorate. He was said to have instructed the Authorities to ensure the rescue of the MOZART Container vessel personnel.
Concerned about the safety of the 15 kidnapped Crew members of the MOZART Container vessel, Mevlut Cavuvoglu, the Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs was said to have also spoken to Osman Levent Karsan , the operator of Boden Denizcilik, AS Turkey , that owns the ship , emphaising that ‘’necessary actions will be taken ‘’to rescue the Crew as soon as possible and return them to the country safely’’ .
It was gathered that the Turkish Embassies in surrounding countries, including Nigeria, have been mobilised for the rescue of the Crew. But the Turkey based shipping Company has called for a ‘’sensitive approach to the rescue operations for the sake of the Crew members’’ stressing that they are doing dong everything within their capacity ‘’ to solve the problem as soon as possible in the safest way’’.
A Recall that a similar incident had occurred in 2019 when a Turkish cargo vessel was attacked by Pirates, alleged to be Nigerian pirates and 10 seafarers , all Turkish nationals were SAID to have been taken hostage for ransom before they were released.
Many had attributed the regularity of Pirates attack on oceangoing vessels in the recent time in the Gulf of Guinea to the cancellation of the controversial Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, operated by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited, OMSL which had won the contract from the Nigerian Navy, at the instance of Hajia Usman, Managing Director, NPA, who has the backing of Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transportation by the Katsina state born Nigerian President.
This may have forced the Ibok –Ete Ekwe Ibas, a Vice Admiral, led Nigerian Navy, Jamoh, Director General, NIMASA, and his Management Team to go back’’ to the drawing board to put the situation under control by restoring sanity in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’.
The agency which had taken delivery of the $195 million operational security equipment from the Isareli firm, HLSI security Systems and Technologies Limited that would enhance the security of the nation’s maritime domain which includes the anchorage area , where all vessels calling at the Lagos and south east ports berth may have stepped up their Operation in Collaboration with the Navy to contain the annual loss of $2.3 billion to sea thieves in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
The NIMASA, boss who had given an insight to the equipment that that that had been delivered to the agency had said that it had received two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAV, and two special mission vessels.This is in addition to the 17 fast interceptor boats and, 15 armoured vehicles.
Recall that the Nigerian Air Force, and the Maritime Regulatory agency had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, in 2013, on maritime air Surveillance and Intelligence, in order to work closely in maritime security.
Given that maritime security and safety, top the agenda of the Jamoh led new NIMASA led Management, he has made it clear to those that cares to listen that the agency under his Leadership is ‘’committed to ensuring the success of the Deep Blue Project with adequate Cooperation from all stakeholders’’.
Security experts believe that the full deployment of the maritime security equipment which are scattered in Benin, Lagos and Onne, Rivers state , in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea as would force many of the unrepentant Pirates and other sea criminals in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, who would no longer find easy to carry out their attack on Merchant vessels for fear of being racked to go underground. It is not surprising why they have advised those still engaging in the Criminals to turn a new leaf or be ready to face the Consequences in no distant time. They had stopped short of saying that their days are numbered in Nigerian waters and the GoG.